Last weekend I went for a run around Athens. I started out on the bike path and had only planned to run for twenty minutes, tops. After my knee started aching, I walked. My new plan was to head up to The Ridges, an old insane asylum in town that’s been converted to nature reserves, hiking paths, an art museum and other university buildings. There’s a spot on one of the paths known as Radar Hill that has some great views, so I wanted to head up there one last time in case I didn’t make it up again before I left town.
I got a sudden burst of energy at the bottom of one of the hills to the path, so I started to run up. I watched the uneven Athens bricks beneath my feet pass by, and I wasn’t really paying attention to more than the music coming from my earbuds, but then I realized a girl was running down the hill and was trying to stop me. I obliged with a big “Hi!” because at first I wasn’t sure if I knew her from somewhere. I didn’t, but she continued to tell me that there’d been an accident up there so it probably wasn’t a good idea to go up. Then she asked if I wanted to run with her if I was headed toward Radar Hill. Even though I knew it might hurt my knee, I agreed.
For the next forty-five minutes, I ran with a complete stranger who by the end of the run felt to me like someone I’d met multiple times before. We didn’t just share the running bond, we shared Bobcat and Athens bonds as well. As I talked to the girl, it was clear to me that she loved Athens. That came as no surprise to me, because I love Athens, too. There’s a feeling here that really can’t be put into words, but that day I knew I’d come as close to seeing what Athens meant to someone as I ever would. It was truly an Athens experience: completely random, and completely wonderful.
When Athens gets into someone’s soul, you can see it in their eyes and the way they can’t help but smile when they talk about it. Athens is more than just the Ohio University community, although that is one of the many reasons I feel a strong connection to this place. Athens is like a little Appalachian bubble. Outside of town and nearby parks, there’s not much around. There have been countless moments when I’ve felt aggravated with that bubble, wanting to get out of it in any way possible. But I always wanted to come back, and until now, I always knew I would be coming back.
On Saturday, I’m saying goodbye to Athens for right now. I don’t know when I’ll be coming back. I don’t know what campus will look like the next time I see it. I’ll never live in my little apartment again. But even though there’s a lot of “if’s” surrounding my life right now, I can’t deny that this place has truly become a part of me.
I just want to thank the girl I ran with for reminding me of that.